Healthy Hips Part II
By: Keith Scott MS, ATC, CSCS
In the last article I talked about how to identify three common hip issues. Hopefully these tests helped many readers better examine their own problem areas around the hip. In this installment, I am going to give you a few “fixes” for those common hip problems and also some preventive exercises as well.
Tight Hip Flexors : I would be willing to bet that most of the people reading this have tight hip flexors. How can I make this bet? In the 15 plus years I have been working with athletes and non-athletes, most of the people that walked through my door had tight hip flexors.
So you have tight hip flexors, now what?
Box Lunge and stretch – This is a two in one exercise that will not only loosen up your tight hip flexors, but it will also stretch your glutes, and upper hamstrings as well. Find a box or platform that is above knee height, and place one of your feet on the top of the box. Your up knee should be bent more than 90 degrees. Slowly lean forward, placing more weight on the box. Keep the opposite, weight bearing leg in one place and fairly straight as you lean forward. You should start to feel a stretch in the front of the straight leg. You may also feel a stretch in your glute area and even a little in the mid to back thigh muscles (adductors, hamstrings.) If you are tight in the hips, this is a great stretch and will get more than you bargained for. Hold each stretch for 20 seconds and perform 5 reps. Switch sides and repeat.
An advanced tip for your hips flexors and groin area is to hold this same stretch but rotate slightly (and slowly) towards the bent knee.
Tip Hip Rotators – If you have found that your hip rotators are tight, you need some work to get the hips healthy. Try these exercises and watch your limitations go away in the next few weeks.
While lying on your back bend one of you knees to 90 degrees and rotate your leg in (like you are going to cross that foot over your opposite knee.) Grab onto the bent knee with one hand and your ankle of the same leg, with the other hand. Pull your bent leg up towards your chest, being extra careful not to torque the knee (apply even pressure.) Pull your ankle and knee evenly until you feel a stretch deep in your glute area. Once you feel that stretch, hold it for 20 seconds. Repeat 5 times and switch legs.
This stretch will loosen up your external rotators in your hip very well and if you have back pain, may very well help get rid of it.
Sleeping glutes – If you found that your hamstrings are overactive and your glutes are sleeping at the wheel, you need to work on activating them for not only hip health, but for back, knee and overall body health.
Using the test that you performed to find out if your glutes were really asleep is one of the best ways to activate them. Here is a review:
Lie on your back with your knees bent to 90 degrees. While lying, with your back flat against the floor, drive your heels into the floor and elevate your hips. Perform this motion for about 20 straight reps. If you feel a burning and/or tightness in your hamstrings more than you do in your glutes (butt), this means your glutes are not working as they should. Even if you do feel it more in your glutes, chances are you need work. We all do.
Perform this exercise in the same way except hold each bridge for 5 seconds, making sure to consciously squeeze your butt each rep. You can also bring your heels in closer to your butt before you start. Over time, your glutes will kick in and take over. Do this exercise everyday until you notice a difference. By day three you should feel your glutes working more than your hamstrings.
Band Walks – Find an elastic band or tubing and tie it into a small circle. Place it around your ankles and spread your legs until the band is tight. Start to walk sideways spreading your lead leg as far as you can. Pick up your back leg (in other words, don’t drag it) and bring it close to your lead leg, while walking across the floor. Make sure you always have tension on the band. Walk across the floor at least 15 steps before simply changing lead legs and coming back to where you started. You should feel a burning in the sides of your hips. Perform 2 sets up and back. For the first set, keep your legs relatively straight. For the second set, slightly bend your knees while doing this.
This is a great way to fire up your smaller, but just as important glute muscles.
To ensure that you maintain mobile, flexible and fired up hips (in other words “Healthy Hips”) here are some exercises that I like to do with my clients to keep them healthy and at the top of their game.
Deep Squat Holds – Spread your legs past shoulder width and work on slowly squatting as deep as you can while keeping your back fairly straight. Once you find a spot where you cannot squat any deeper without discomfort or pain, hold that position for 30 seconds. Repeat about 5 times. To add some extra work, once you are in that position, push your knees out slightly with your elbows. This will put your adductors, and rotators on stretch, while forcing your other muscles to brace and fire. This is an excellent exercise to stretch and fire up your hips in a simple and safe manner. Each time out, try to go deeper and with your legs spread a little more.
Mule Kicks – If you really want to fire up your glutes try this simple exercise. Bend over a table or bed, or even a bench face down. Brace yourself with your hands while you kick one of your legs up and back. Make sure to extend your hip while slightly bending your knee. Once you kick that leg up and back, hold it for a count of 3 seconds. Return and repeat about a total of 12 times. Switch legs. This exercise will surely fire up your glutes and get them firing the way they should.
**if you have low back problems, be careful doing these in the beginning.
Try these exercises and watch your limitations shake loose before your eyes. You will move better and feel better after the first few sessions.